Kid crime shoots up five-fold
Only11, wanted in 12 cases
Traders signal day-long bandh
Building plans for a fee
Draw of stumps at Aussie trade office
Neon signs for Subhas
Smokeless autos set for debut run
Supply boost to parched south
Medical student hangs herself in Salt Lake home
Forum mooted as green guide for polluting units

Calcutta, March 26: 
The reason seemed trivial for a small boy to commit such a big crime. But it was a quarrel over collecting water from a roadside tap that led nine-year-old Anil (not his real name) to take the life of his 38-year-old neighbour.

In the water scarcity-hit Alipore slum area, Anil had been standing ahead of his neighbour. But as the flow from the roadside tap became a trickle, his neighbour jumped the queue.

Angered by this, Anil rushed home, picked up an iron rod and returned to hit his neighbour on the head with it, killing him instantly.

His case has been heard by the Juvenile Court in Salt Lake and a verdict is awaited. Meanwhile, he is spending time at the juvenile home at Dhrubashram.

Fourteen-year-old Abdul (not his real name) had been trying to attract the attention of a 12-year-old girl who lived next door in the less-privileged quarters of Beleghata. Spurned by her, he decided to take his revenge one day when she was home alone. He crept in stealthily, and raped her, muffling her cries with a pillow.

His case has been tried by the Juvenile Welfare Board and the Juvenile Court and he has been sent to jail for boys for the next five years.

In the past three years, juvenile crime in the city has gone up five-fold and, from current indications, the graph is rising dangerously. From murders to rape, and from prostitution to drug trafficking, police stations in the city and juvenile courts have been logging up an unprecedented number of cases of crime by children.

But what has stunned officials, is the increased brutality that such crime is taking on. Last year, a 14-year-old boy not only murdered a 60-year-old man, but also gouged out his eyes and cut open his jaws.

“I have been dealing with juvenile crime for a long time, but the changing nature of crime is what has sent the alarm bells ringing,” said Tapas Bhanja, a high court-appointed special officer who has been assigned to monitor the status of criminal children.

“And a continuing reason for this,” he added, “ is that our system of treating juvenile criminals is punitive, not tilted towards reform. I think the entire system of handling criminal children should be reviewed.”

According to the current system of handling such children, those charged with crime are sent either to Dhrubashram, in case of boys, and the Liluah Home, in case of girls, while the trial is still on. Once convicted, they are sent to jail along with adult criminals.

This, according to experts, defeats the very purpose of the Juvenile Justice Act of 1986, which was meant to differentiate between criminal children and adult criminals.

“Sending children to jail along with hardened criminals violates the spirit of the Juvenile Justice Act,” said Bhanja. “Instead, guilty children should be sent to reformatories, at least to learn about a better way of life. But in jail with branded criminals, they only learn more about the world of crime. This is why they keep going back to crime once are released from prison.”

Other reasons cited by experts for the growing incidence of juvenile crime is the growing neglect of children by their parents, domestic violence and the influence of television serials and films, some of which make a life of crime seem so easy and alluring for young minds.

Sources in the Juvenile Court said that in an increasing number of cases, children have admitted that their inspiration came from criminals on screen, who “seemed to be leading a glamourised existence”.

The vice-chairman of the Legal Aid Service of West Bengal, Gitanath Ganguly, finds another reason for soaring crime by children. “There are institutions in the state to handle juvenile crime and the police do not have the authority to keep children in their custody,” explained Ganguly. “As a result, when the police pick up errant children, they usually end up releasing them because of the paucity of institutions dealing with such crime.”

Shampa Sengupta of Maitreyee, who has been dealing with the development of destitute children, suggests a compromise between punishment and reformation. “After their release from custody, children who have committed a crime should be sent to a home where they will be encouraged to reform, to be better citizens,” she said. “Only then will they have a chance in life to be of service to others.”


Calcutta, March 26: 
The police files say he has shot at least two persons, been involved in eight robberies, and has more than a dozen criminal cases pending against him.

So what’s new?

He calls himself Lawaaris, and his age is only 11. And he has been giving sleepless nights to a number of officials in south Calcutta police stations. From running errands at local hooch dens to ferrying packets for drug operators, Lawaaris (his name in police records is Sanjoy) has come a long way in a short time in the city’s underworld.

It was early last year that Lawaaris took his first tentative steps into the world of crime. Homeless and wandering around in the lanes of Behala one night, he found a possé of policemen out on their nightly search of criminals. Hiding in one of the doorways was Jishu, a notorious criminal of the area. Without knowing why, Lawaaris told Jishu of the police’s movements, helping the criminal to stay one step ahead of the law. Next day, a grateful Jishu took Lawaaris under his wing and one of the city’s youngest criminals was born.

According to the deputy superintendent of police, South 24-Parganas, Subhankar Chatterjee, Lawaaris proved to be a fast learner. Within six months, he was picking up the art of using a country-made pistol, and soon, he had graduated to shooting from a six-chamber revolver. “He was very quick in learning how to shoot,” said Kalua, a Thakurpukur criminal, now in custody.

Lawaaris’ first real “test” came last month, when he was sent out with a few others to bump off Bhola and Bechu, arch rivals of Jishu. Police say both were shot, and Lawaaris had no mean role in this. “His advantage is that this boy is a kid and does not attract attention, so he can get away very easily with his crimes,” admitted officer-in-charge of Behala police station, Subir Chatterjee.”But we will get him, and soon.”


Calcutta, March 26: 
A day-long trade bandh has been called in the city by the Joint Committee of West Bengal Trade Bodies on April 18 to protest the “unwarranted and arbitrary” imposition of various licences and taxes by Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) on traders.

T.N. Trivedi, convener of the joint committee, said most of the taxes imposed “arbitrarily” had no relevance to the activities carried on the by traders. He said in 1999, after traders had observed a three-day strike from July 29 on the similar issues, the state government had formed a high-power committee to go through contentious issues which included a tax on water and refuse, and renewals of trade and health licences.

The committee, while conceding most of the traders’ demands, submitted its recommendations, which were duly accepted by the government but never implemented by the civic authorities, said Trivedi. Ever since the committee submitted its recommendations, the trade bodies have been trying to press the CMC to implement the recommendations, but to no avail.

“Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has called a meeting on March 30 to discuss the issues with us but we are sure nothing will come out of it. We have held several meetings with the earlier mayors, too, and also with municipal affairs minister Asoke Bhattacharya. So, we have no alternative but to go on our bandh,” Trivedi said.

Prabhat Das, joint committee official, said if the CMC failed to respond to their demands, traders will hold a statewide convention in May to decide on a course of action.


Calcutta, March 26: 
Building plans will no longer be a confidential document and the sole preserve of the landlord. A certified copy of the plan will be made available for a fee from April. A steady stream of complaints from citizens being cheated by realtors has prompted this move by the Corporation.

“The decision to make building plans available to everyone will help those buying flats or buildings in the city verify their legality before purchasing them. It will act as an effective deterrent against illegal construction by realtors,” said member, mayor-in-council, Swapan Samaddar.

Till now, only the landlord or a legal heir was entitled to apply for a certified copy of the building plan from the Corporation. From April, the building department of the civic body will charge between Rs 1,000 and Rs 5,000 for a certified copy of a sanctioned plan, in accordance with the size of a building or flat. The civic authorities are expected to rake in Rs 4 crore annually through this scheme.

According to the civic body’s estimates, at least 300 illegal buildings are being constructed in Calcutta at any given point of time, of which 90 per cent go on to be completed and sold.

“Now, before purchasing a flat for, say, Rs 12 lakh, one can easily spend around Rs 1,200 to check the sanction plan so that there is no risk involved,” said Samaddar. “We have received several complaints from flat-owners about how realtors have refused to show them the plan sanction. After all, an illegally-constructed flat or building has no resale value, and it is the people who suffer.”

According to director-general (building) Ashok Roychaudhury, the department usually sanctions about 3,000 construction proposals every year. Besides, old construction plans of more than a lakh buildings have already been loaded on to the newly-installed scanner. These can be retrieved for reference within 20 minutes.

Samaddar pointed out that illegal constructions in the city could be broadly divided into three categories — garage spaces and mandatory open spaces on the ground floor of highrises, being converted into flats or shops, additional flats on the roof-top, and buildings in the colony and bustee areas.

“These buildings and flats are not only illegal, they are also unsafe, as they do not pass through any supervision of structural stability or quality of materials,” added Samaddar.


Calcutta, March 26: 
The Dutch trade team departed last winter, the Aussies are packing their bags to leave this summer. Even before Steve Waugh’s men round off their India tour, Austrade will be winding up its Calcutta operations.

Austrade, which opened its city office in 1995, has decided to terminate its ‘full-time presence’ from April 1. Instead, a trade consultant will be appointed on a retainer basis for a token Aussie presence in the ‘business capital’ of the east. The trade office, which had been set up to explore opportunities for Australian companies in the east and the Northeast, is no longer “feasible”. From April, all business dealings for this zone will be handled directly by the Australian Trade Commissioner in New Delhi.

Since Australia doesn’t have a consulate office in Calcutta, Austrade had been performing consular duties, authenticating documents and representing the country in various forums. Now, all consular operations in the east will be controlled from the capital. The impending closure of the Austrade office at B.B.D. Bag, close on the heels of a similar move by the Netherlands Business Promotion Office, has been put down to “lack of industrial initiative and business activity” in the Bengal capital. This, coming bang in the middle of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s business drive, is being viewed by sections of the industry as a “blow to the city’s image”.

“Austrade’s closure is indeed a setback at a time when things were beginning to look up,” said Nazeeb Arif, secretary-general, Indian Chamber of Commerce. “Apart from mining and agri-products, there was tremendous potential for economic co-operation with Australia in telecom and IT. Australia is also a great tourist destination, with a sizeable traffic from this part of the country. We were, in fact, planning to lobby for more flights connecting Calcutta with Australia, when we received news of Austrade shutting down.”

A leading industrialist, on condition of anonymity, said: “The local office of Austrade had done its bit to impress upon the state government the prospects of Indo-Australian co-operation in mining, food processing and dairy products. They have repeatedly invited a delegation from the state, but the government showed absolutely no interest. How long can they keep on banging their heads against a brick wall?”

Jawhar Sarkar, secretary, commerce & industries, government of West Bengal, rubbished the view that the government had failed to respond to proposals from Australian investors. “I haven’t received any official intimation of closure from Austrade. But anyway, we never had much interaction with the office in Calcutta. And I am not aware of any proposal from Australian companies which got stalled due to our fault. So, I can’t really say what has prompted them to shut shop here. However, I would have been happy had they continued operations in the state,” said Sarkar.

D.P. Patra, managing director, West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, admitted that he was not aware of the Austrade move and so had “nothing to say”.


Calcutta, March 26: 
The stars may or may not shine on transport minister Subhas Chakraborty in the Assembly elections but his name is already up on neon signs, shining brightly from windscreens of buses plying in his constituency.

More than 500 private buses will be used to campaign for the transport minister, who is contesting on a CPM ticket from the Belgachhia constituency.

The buses will carry neon signs attached to the windscreens, urging people to vote for Chakraborty. Small boxes will be fitted in the drivers’ cabins carrying the election slogan and the party symbol.

Most of the buses engaged in the campaign will start from Nagerbazar and Gouripur, near Dum Dum airport, and ply through areas in Chakraborty’s constituency.

Buses plying on routes 30B/1, DN-8 and 3C/1 have already started carrying the neon signs. The signs have been fitted to 154 buses, and 350 more on routes 215, 219, and 202 will carry them within a few days. Of these, the buses on route 215 start from Lake Town, the hub of Chakraborty’s constituency.

Chakraborty said: “It is better to use buses for poll campaigns than deface walls. Removing the boxes will also be easier than cleaning up the walls.”

Jahar Ghosal, joint secretary of the Citu-controlled North 24-Parganas Zilla Bus and Minibus Federation, said: “Subhasda is the president of our union and we are trying our best to help him win.”

Sujit Bose, once a close aide of Chakraborty and his rival candidate now, said: “The decision to use buses for election campaign will not help much. Several bus-owners were not interested to use their vehicles for poll campaigns. But Chakraborty is the transport minister and all bus-workers belong to the Citu affiliated unions. Naturally, many of them have been forced to carry the neon signs.”


Calcutta, March 26: 
Eco-friendly autorickshaws are set to hit the city roads shortly. Designed and developed by the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA), the smokeless three-wheelers are being manufactured by Scooter India Limited, a Central government undertaking.

Announcing this at Writers’ Buildings on Thursday, power minister Mrinal Banerjee said a hundred such autorickshaws would be ready within a year. Some vehicles, he said, were expected to ply in the city within a couple of months.

According to S.P. Gan Chowdhury, director of WBREDA, the six-seater autorickshaw would run on a specially-designed battery which would be 100 per cent smoke and sound-free.

The minister said 25 battery-run buses would be added to the existing fleet of two. “We have plied the battery-run three-wheelers on a trial basis and have got excellent results. Once the new vehicles start operating, the existing autorickshaws will be phased out,’’ Gan Chowdhury said.

He said the cost of such vehicles will be a little higher, but the operator would gain in the long run in terms of fuel and maintenance costs. “Thousands of autorickshaws are causing air pollution in the city. As plying of three-wheelers cannot be stopped, we are introducing an eco-friendly substitute,’’ Banerjee said.

He said the government would grant a subsidy on purchasing such pollution-free vehicles.

Announcing the future plans of the department, the minister said the WBREDA was constructing an eco-friendly housing complex in the Rajarhat township, where 25 specially designed buildings would come up on a two-acre plot.

The complex, reportedly the first of its kind in the country, will produce adequate power through a solar energy unit for its residents.

“Every two-storeyed building, covering 12,000 sq ft on a three cottah plot, will cost Rs 16 lakh,’’ Gan Chowdhury said.

The minister said his department had taken up plans to generate hydel power from tidal waves. A Rs 36-crore project will be implemented at Durgadewani in the Sunderbans.


Calcutta, March 26: 
With the increasing scarcity of drinking water in the southern fringes of the city, the state government has decided to sink tubewells in Behala, Thakurpukur, Santoshpur and Jadavpur. Underground pipe-lines will also be installed to supply filtered water in the added areas.

The Corporation has been asked to prepare a project for which the CMDA will provide funds.

Urban development minister Asoke Bhattacharya on Monday held a meeting with senior CMDA and CMC officials to assess the situation.

At the meeting, officials confirmed that a large number of people in the added areas were not getting sufficient drinking water. The crisis would be acute if steps were not taken immediately, they warned.

“We shall sink at least 150 tubewells in the added areas. I have asked the CMDA engineers to start work immediately, in consultation with the CMC. The number can be increased in case of necessity,’’ Bhattacharya said.

He said residents, who are getting an additional two million gallons of water daily, would get a further five million gallons from Monday and more than 18 million gallons from the next month.

“Though we are getting sufficient water from the Garden Reach treatment plant, there is no scope to supply it to the added areas as there is no pipeline. We shall start laying the pipelines shortly,’’ the minister said.

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee said supply from the Garden Reach treatment plant should start within two months. “We are finalising the pipeline project and will send the report soon to the state government for approval,’’ Mukherjee said.

The mayor said there was no alternative but to sink handpumped tubewells in the added areas at present to meet the water crisis there.


Calcutta, March 26: 
A medical student committed suicide at her Salt Lake residence, where she was found hanging from the ceiling on Sunday afternoon.

Kalira Bhoumik, 22, a fifth-year medical student of Nilratan Sircar Medical College, was rushed to the hospital, where she was declared “brought dead” by the hospital authorities.

Kalira had secured a gold medal for the anatomy paper in her first year. Friendly by nature and popular in class, Kalira was a hard-working student. However, her friends feel that she may have been lagging behind in her studies and was unable to handle the pressure. “She seemed to be suffering from nerves and of late, was very depressed,” said a batchmate.

Neighbours and relatives were also upset at the death of “a very pleasant and cheerful girl.” Kalira’s elder brother had died of meningitis a few years earlier.

The Bidhannagar South police, under whose jurisdiction the Bhoumik residence in Purbachal Housing Colony falls, have ruled out foul play.


Calcutta, March 26: 
With environment becoming the watchword of industry, what does a unit plagued by pollution problems do? In more cases than one, it runs from environmental pillar to anti-pollution post, seeking a solution. The Institute of Energy, Environment and Waste Management aims to provide a “proper forum” to play the part of guide to such units, besides influencing government and industry, and spreading awareness among the people.

“The polluting units often do not have knowledge of or access to the most cost-effective and appropriate technology to handle their particular problems... The Institute, by bringing together like-minded experts from industry, management, finance, law and academics, can provide not only advice but a complete engineering solution,” explained president R.N. Parbat.

A seminar, organised by the 10-month-old Institute at Jadavpur University on Saturday, focused on the ‘role of consultancy in environmental management’. With nearly a hundred participants from West Bengal Power Development Corporation Ltd and SAIL, Regional Research Laboratory and PWC, M.N. Dastur and DCL, Durgapur Steel Plant and Mecon, discussions ranged from global environmental strategies to energy generation from municipal, urban and industrial wastes in India.

Chief guest S.K. Tamotia, president and CEO of Indal, challenged the environmental norms adapted from the West, which had grappled with the problems for years before laying down the rules. “The pollution norms should be modified to allow for our conditions and problems which are unique, and the solutions often have to be ingenious,” observed Tamotia.

S. Dasgupta, vice-chairman and MD, M.N. Dastur, stressed the role of consultants in environmental management. “Consultants with the necessary know-how and data-bank can study individual problems and provide the most suitable and economic solutions,” observed Dasgupta.

Having identified “improved energy management, recovery of value-added products from the uncontrolled discharges in the environment, judicious recycling of industrial urban wastes and adherence to global standards in environment management” as some of the “emerging challenges in the new millennium for sustainable industrial and social development in the country”, the Institute formed in Calcutta in June 2000 is ready to play a “larger role” in a critical field.


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